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Aviation Art Chronology- Great War- 1917
A chronology of the air war in 1917 as depicted through aviation art
pete hill (formerly Bunter)
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 Naval Ace- by Mark Postlethwaite

At 1930hrs on 11th August 1917, Flight-Lieutenant Charles Booker of No 8 Naval Squadron RNAS, flying a Sopwith Triplane, encountered and shot down the Albatros D-III of German ace Hauptmann Adolf Ritter von Tutschek, commander of Jasta 12, over Acheville. The latter, badly wounded in the shoulder, managed to crash-land and survive.

Tutschek, a Bavarian, had achieved his 23rd victory less than a hour before. He had started the war as an officer in the infantry and had served for over two years on the Eastern Front, sustaining a wound in his foot in May 1915 and receiving a decoration for bravery for leading an attack on a Russian position in Poland in February 1916. Transferred to the Western Front, Tutschek was injured by poison gas shortly after arriving at Verdun in March 1916. After his recovery, he requested a transfer to pilots training and after qualifying as a pilot in October 1916, he flew two-seater reconnaissance machines for three months before joining a fighter unit in January 1917, scoring his first success- an Airco DH2- in March. The following month, Tutschek was given command of Jasta 12. The unit was primarily comprised of Prussian pilots and initially they greeted their new commander coldly, as there was seldom any warmth between Prussians and Bavarians. But Tutschek achieved their respect when the unit’s aerodrome was bombed on the night of 30th April. Tutschek sprinted through the falling bombs to his aircraft, took off and, finding the enemy formation in the darkness, shot down one of the bombers. By the morning of 11th August, he had 21 victories to his credit and in the afternoon of that day, he added two more to his tally, both of them British Bristol F2Bs. 

Tutschek would have died at the hands of Charles Booker on August 11th if not for the intervention of one of the former’s pilots, Leutnant Viktor Schobinger. Booker was closing in on Tutschek’s smoking Albatros, seeking to finish it off, when Schobinger got behind him, scoring numerous hits on the Sopwith Triplane. Booker’s plane was so badly damaged, Schobinger was credited with a definite kill but the former managed to make it back to Allied territory and crash-land. The pilot survived but his Triplane, serial no N5482, nicknamed ‘Maude’, was a write-off, much to Booker’s disappointment who had flown that particular aircraft for some months, having achieved 14 confirmed victories with it. 

Charles Dawson Booker was born into a comfortably middle-class family in Kent, England in 1897. He was sent to Australia to complete part of his schooling at the exclusive Melbourne Grammar. Turning 18 in 1915, Booker enlisted in the Royal Naval Air Service in May of that year and was commissioned as a Flight Sub-Lieutenant. After completing his training, Booker was assigned to his first operational posting in early 1916, No 5 Naval Wing stationed on the Belgian coast. Shortly afterwards in May 1916 he was transferred to No 8 Naval Wing which was operating Sopwith Pups on the Western Front. Booker was credited with his first confirmed victory in January 1917 when he brought down a German Albatros D-III fighter. 

It was to be three months before he achieved any more successes by which time, No 8 Naval Wing had re-equipped with the Sopwith Triplane. In April 1917, he was credited with four more enemy aircraft confirmed, reaching the official status of ‘Ace’. Despite his youth (Booker only turned 20 in April 1917), he was already a Flight-Commander. His men respected him although he was noted by one comrade to be a quiet, gentle man who was painfully shy and awkward around women. 

In May 1917, as the weather grew warmer and encounters with enemy aircraft became more frequent as both sides strove to support the respective ground forces in the massive battle of Arras, Booker’s score increased rapidly. During that month, he was credited with nine enemy machines, all of them Albatros D-IIIs, including three in a single sortie (May 24). In June 1917, Booker destroyed an Aviatik two-seater and two of the new, upgraded Albatros DVs. The following month, three more notches were added to his tally- a two-seater Rumpler and two more Albatros DVs, bringing his total score to 20.

Tutschek’s Albatros on 11th August was Booker’s 21st confirmed victory. With a new Sopwith Triplane, Booker downed his 22nd German plane a week later on August 18th when he was credited with an Albatros DV ‘out-of-control’. In September 1917, No 8 Naval Wing received the new Sopwith Camel. After the heavier and more easy-going Sopwith Triplane, Booker, like many of his comrades, found the smaller, lighter and less forgiving Camel a challenge to master. Yet with the new fighter, he achieved his next success on 27th September when he brought down an Albatros DV over Souchez. 

That success occurred shortly after 1800hrs. The Albatros pilot was Oberleutnant Hans Waldausen, a pilot who had only become a fighter pilot two months earlier yet had already achieved six confirmed successes. Having spent the first year of the war as an infantryman, Waldausen had become an observer/gunner in a reconnaissance unit in late 1915 before training as a pilot the following year. After serving for over a year as a reconnaissance pilot and a training instructor, Waldausen had been assigned to fighter unit Jasta 37 near the end of July 1917. On 19th September, he was credited with his first confirmed victory and over the next seven days, he achieved three more confirmed successes (plus at least one more un-confirmed). At 1700hrs on Sept 27, Waldausen destroyed an Allied observation balloon and five minutes later, shot down a British RE8 two-seater. Just after 1800hrs, he was attacked by a pair of Sopwith Camels of No 8 Naval Wing, one flown by Booker, the other by his wingman -a South African pilot, Lieutenant Philip Tudhope. Booker scored hits on Waldausen’s Albatros and forced the latter to crash-land, coming down in Allied territory. Waldausen survived the action but spent the rest of the war as a POW.

No 8 Naval Squadron was withdrawn from frontline duties in November 1917 and Booker spent several months in Britain, taking a spell of leave and then working as a flight instructor at a training base. In the late spring of 1918, Booker was promoted to Major and given command of No 201 Squadron of what was now the Royal Air Force. This unit operated Sopwith Camels and arrived in France in early May. Booker achieved his first success with his new unit on the 15th May when he shot down an Albatros DV over Bapaume. Eight days later, he destroyed another Albatros over Cambrai, his overall tally reaching 25. On May 27th he had the sad duty of identifying the body of his friend and fellow naval ace Australian Robert Little who had been shot down and killed. On 31st July, he was credited with bringing down one of the new German Fokker DVII fighters, bringing his score to 26.

On 13th August, Booker was orientating a rookie pilot over the frontlines west of Rosieres when the two Camels ran into an enemy patrol of six Fokker DVII fighters of Jasta 19, all flown by seasoned veterans. Booker signaled the young pilot to break off and dash for home while the former flew at the enemy planes head-on to cover his wingman’s retreat. In the fierce battle that followed, Booker shot down three of the Fokkers before he himself was killed. The pilot credited with destroying Booker’s Camel was Leutnant Ulrich Neckel of Jasta 19, a 20-year-old veteran ace. Booker was Neckel’s 22nd confirmed success. 

Adolf von Tutschek’s right shoulder blade was shattered in the August 11th battle and he spent months in recovery. It was February 1918 before he was able to return to active duty. Given command of a fighter wing- JG-2, Tutschek now flew a green Fokker Dr.1 Triplane. He achieved four more confirmed victories between Feb 26 and March 10, bringing his wartime total to 27. On March 15th, Tutschek was surprised from behind by an SE5 of No 24 Squadron RAF and was shot down & killed. 

Leutnant Viktor Schobinger, who forced down Booker on Aug 11th 1917, eventually achieved a total of eight confirmed victories before he was badly wounded in his foot in mid-November 1917. His injury was so severe, he was forced to cease operational flying and he spent the remainder of the Great War as an instructor. During WW2, he commanded a bomber unit in the Luftwaffe. Schobinger died in 1989.

Leutnant Ulrich Neckel, who shot down and killed Booker on Aug 13th 1918, survived the war with a total of 30 victories to his credit. He died of an illness in 1928. 

Oberleutnant Hans Waldhausen, whom Booker shot down, after his release from the POW camp, studied law in Germany and became a judge. During WW2, he was appointed a senior military judge in the Luftwaffe, presiding over court martials. He lived until 1976. 

Lieutenant Philip Tudhope, who was Booker’s wingman when the latter shot down Waldhausen, also survived the Great War with six confirmed successes and a DFC to his credit. After the war he returned to his native South Africa but no more details are known.

pete hill (formerly Bunter)
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Ace of the Isonzo River  – by Ivan Berryman

On 11th August 1917, Austro-Hungarian ace Godwin von Brumowski achieved his 11th confirmed victory when he shot down an Italian Caudron C.IV bomber over Plava. The aerial activity over the Isonzo River sector was hotting up as the Italians prepared for a major offensive. Brumowski, flying his favourite Hansa-Brandenburg D.I ‘Star Strutter’, would find himself very busy over the coming weeks. That very evening, another Caudron C.IV became his 12th victory.

Born in Galicia, Poland in 1889, Brumowski grew up in a prominent military family. Schooled at a military academy in Vienna, he joined the Austro-Hungarian army in 1910, serving in the 6th artillery division. When Austria declared war on Serbia in July 1914, Lieutenant Brumowski was 25-years-old. He served on the Eastern Front until he was transferred to the air-force in July 1915. Brumowski became an observer/gunner in a reconnaissance unit Flik-1 operating in Russia and commanded by Otto Jindra who became a good friend of the former. On 12th April 1916 Jindra and his observer Brumowski bombed a Russian military regiment that was on parade and being reviewed by Tsar Nicholas II. En route home, Brumowski in the rear seat shot down two Russian Morane fighters. Early in May, while flying with another pilot, Brumowski was credited with a third Russian plane.

Impressed by Brumowski’s marksmanship and bravery, Jindra recommended him for pilot training. Despite impaired vision in one eye (he wore a monocle), Brumowski qualified as a pilot in July 1916 and rejoined Flik-1. However four months later he was transferred to Flik-12 based on the Italian Front. He achieved his first success as a pilot when he shot down an Italian Caproni CA-1 on 3rd December near Mavhinje. On 2nd January 1917, he forced down an Italian Farman for his fifth victory, making him officially an ‘Ace’. 

Brumowski flew the Hansa-Brandenburg D.1, its upper wings adorned with a swirl pattern of olive greens, designed to blend in with the forests of the Italian countryside below. Between 10th May and 10th August 1917, he was credited with five more Italian planes confirmed (plus two more unconfirmed). After his double success on August 11th, Brumowski’s score stood at 12.

August 1917 became Brumowski’s most fruitful month as after the 11th, he achieved ten more confirmed victories (with another six unconfirmed claims). Three of them were scored with the Albatros D-III which was entering service with the Austro-Hungarian air-force and by the end of the month, Brumowski had decided to switch to the German-built machine for good. He painted his Albatros all-red in emulation of the famous German ace Manfred von Richthofen. 

After a spell of leave, Brumowski returned to the skies, an Italian observation balloon becoming his 22nd confirmed success on 9th October. On 5th November, he shot down two Macchi L.3 flying boats in a single sortie. He scored four more victories before the end of that month, raising his tally to 28. He shared credit with another pilot for an observation balloon on 13th December for his 29th success.

As winter set in, aerial activity decreased sharply, as the unpredictable and icy conditions over the mountainous Italian landscape made flying hazardous for both sides. He had a narrow escape on 1st February 1918 when a quiet solo patrol was abruptly interrupted by a formation of eight British fighters. Brumowski’s Albatros was hit 26 times and the petrol tank began to leak and then ignited. Despite the flames threatening to engulf his aircraft, Brumowski managed to make it back to his aerodrome and crash-land safely without any injuries apart from minor burns to his face. Only three days later, he was attacked again by a group of eight British fighters and his Albatros was severely hit, the wings almost breaking apart. Brumowski crash-landed within his own lines, the aircraft flipping over on impact. Incredibly, Brumowski again survived without serious injury but the aircraft was a write-off.

It was 25th March before he achieved his next success, an Italian SIA-7 bomber. On 17th April, he was credited with a Sopwith Camel over Arcade. In June 1918, Brumowski achieved his final four victories, three of those in a single day on June 19th, bringing his total to 35. On 23rd June, he was ordered on extensive leave as his superiors recognised that he was exhausted and combat-fatigued. Brumowski did no more combat flying in the war although in October he was appointed commander of all Austrian fighter units in Italy. Having achieved 35 victories over 439 combat sorties, Brumowski was Austria’s highest scoring ace of the Great War. He never received Austria’s highest decoration- the Military Order of Maria Theresa- as he was expected to recommend himself for it but Brumowski felt he shouldn’t have to.

After the war Brumowski inherited some farming land in Transylvania from his mother-in-law and worked as a farmer for ten years but the steady routine and isolation did not suit his restless, adventurous character and he achieved little success. He indulged in reckless behaviour, being what would nowadays be called an ‘adrenaline junkie’ and he participated in mountaineering, auto-racing and horse-racing. Brumowski’s marriage collapsed and he left to open a flying school in 1930. 

In 1936, Brumowski was killed in a flying accident while working as an instructor in Holland. 

pete hill (formerly Bunter)
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Lucky 13– by Ivan Berryman

Godwin von Brumowski achieved his 13th victory on 14th August 1917 when he brought down an Italian Macchi seaplane over Grado in Northern Italy. 

pete hill (formerly Bunter)
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Otto Kissenberth (The Bavarian Knight) – by Terry Jones

German ace Otto Kissenberth achieved his eighth confirmed victory when, while at the controls of his Albatros DV of Jasta 23, he brought down a Nieuport 17 over Morte Homme on 17th August 1917. He flew an all-black Albatros, its fuselage adorned with the symbol of the white edelweiss flower.

Kissenberth had been born in Bavaria in 1893 and was studying engineering in Munich when the Great War began in 1914. He enlisted in the air-service and after training as a pilot, he joined FFA-8b, a reconnaissance unit. He was wounded in March 1915 and after recovery was transferred to FFA-9, a reconnaissance unit based on the Italian Front. In 1916, the unit was transformed into KEK-E, a multi-purpose unit, its stock of planes now including fighters. On 12th October 1916, the French & British launched a major daylight bombing raid on the munitions works in Oberndorf, the first large-scale strategic bombing raid in history. Flying a Fokker D-II biplane fighter, Kissenberth shot down three Allied bombers in the course of two successive sorties. 

For the next seven months, Kissenberth was primarily employed as a bomber and reconnaissance pilot and it was May 1917 before he was able to score in air-to-air combat again. By this time KEK-E had transformed again into an all-fighter unit-Jasta 16. He flew Albatros fighters during the summer of 1917 and in September he was given command of Jasta 23. Kissenberth was one of the very few aces who wore spectacles while in the air. By May 1918, his score of Allied planes had risen to 19 and, flying a captured Sopwith Camel, he scored his 20th success on the 20th of that month. Shortly afterwards he was badly injured in an accidental crash and he saw out the rest of the war as an instructor.

Kissenberth was killed in a mountaineering accident in 1919. 

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Victory at Monte Santo – by Ivan Berryman

On 21st August 1917, Godwin von Brumowski achieved victory number 18 when he brought down another Italian Caudron C.IV over Monte Santo, a victory he shared with friend and fellow ace Frank Linke-Crawford who, like the former, was flying a Hansa-Brandenburg D.1. 

 

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26, 27, 28, 29  – by Geoff Bell

On 21st August 1917, Max Muller achieved his 26th confirmed victory when he brought down the Martinsyde G.100 ‘Elephant’ of 2nd-Lieutenant Sidney Thompson of No 27 Squadron RFC. Thompson crash-landed behind German lines and became a POW. Muller was flying with Jasta 28 and after this victory, he was awarded the Pour Le Merit aka ‘The Blue Max’, the 29th German pilot to receive that award. 26, 27, 28, 29! 

pete hill (formerly Bunter)
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56 versus 18 – by Keith Woodcock

On 25th August 1917, a flight of Albatros DVs of Jasta 18 encountered a flight of SE5s of No 56 Squadron and a flight of SPADs of No 23 Squadron. In the melee that followed, Lieutenant Reginald Hoidge, a Canadian pilot, attacked and damaged the blue-painted Albatros DV of Leutnant Otto Schober who managed to force-land his aircraft without injury to himself. 

In the late summer of 1917, Jasta 18 and No 56 Squadron were two of the most veteran units operating on the Western Front.

Jasta 18, originally formed the previous year, had been taken over by new commander Rudolf Berthold on 12th August, at that time a seasoned ace with 12 victories to his credit. Berthold, a stern, fiercely determined and strict officer who harbored a secret addiction to painkillers due to a number of serious injuries, was not impressed with the Jasta’s combat record when he took over. He immediately instituted a program of training for all pilots, even the experienced ones and all of the Jasta’s fliers were required to fly practice flights in-between frontline sorties. 

No 56 Squadron had been formed in June 1916 and had arrived in France in April 1917, armed with the new Royal Aircraft Factory SE5a fighter. The unit had an unusually high proportion of veterans, leading the Germans to mistakenly believe the unit was some kind of special elite force designed to take on von Richthofen’s Jastas. 

Berthold remained CO of Jasta 18 until October 10th, during which his unit’s combat record greatly improved and Berthold himself achieved an impressive 16 victories. The unit clashed with No 56 Squadron on a number of occasions, culminating in the dogfight on October 10th where Berthold was badly wounded by ace Gerald Maxwell.

Reginald Hoidge, born in Toronto, Canada in 1894, had served in the RFC since November 1916 after a stint in a reserve artillery unit. He had been assigned to No 56 Squadron shortly before it had been sent to France in April 1917 and he achieved his first confirmed victory when he shot down an Albatros D-III on 5th May. By the end of that month, he was an ‘Ace’ with five enemy machines to his credit, three of those brought down in a single sortie on May 24th. Hoidge scored his 18th success on August 22nd. He was not credited with forcing down Otto Schober’s Albatros on August 25th. By the end of October, his score had risen to 27. Exhausted, Hoidge was given a spell of leave and then spent a number of months working as an instructor in Britain. He was transferred to No 1 Squadron RAF in the autumn of 1918 and achieved one more victory in October before the war ended. Hoidge later moved to the United States and he died in New York in 1963.

Leutnant Otto Schober was killed in action in the spring of 1918.

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Sablatnig SF-5  – by Steve Anderson

On 29th August 1917, a Sablatnig SF5 flying boat of the German naval air-force piloted by Leutnant Pohrt and his NCO observer Jensen successfully attacked and bombed an Allied steamer off the Belgian coast. The vessel caught alight and was abandoned by its crew, the ship eventually running aground on the nearby coast. A second SF5 flew low over the burning ship and photographed the scene.

The SF5 was introduced into service in January 1917 as an intended replacement for the older SF2 models. The SF5 proved a disappointment and was soon disliked by its crews who nicknamed it ‘The Lame Cow’. The type handled sluggishly, especially when banking or climbing and even its cruising speed proved vulnerably slow. Two SF5s were captured intact on the Eastern Front after both were easily overtaken by Russian fighters. Only 91 SF5s were built before production was halted in favour of other, faster seaplane types. 

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Arthur Gould-Lee – by Mark Postlethwaite

At 1700hrs on 4th September 1917 over Polygon Wood in north-eastern France, Lieutenant Arthur Gould-Lee of No 46 Squadron RFC was returning from an uneventful patrol. His flight had intentionally separated for the homeward leg as German anti-aircraft gunners on the ground were less likely to bother single machines as they flew across no-man’s land. The weather was calm and clear on the late afternoon on this early autumn day and Lee later wrote ‘the sky was a lovely pale blue’. He spotted a lone RE8 below him being harassed by a German Albatros D-III.

Lee later wrote, ‘Before I could react, the Hun ceased firing and turned east. I assumed he’d broken off because he spotted me. The RE8 whizzed past, the observer waved and the Hun continued to head eastwards. I dropped into a wide sweeping curve that brought me dead behind the Hun, and 200ft above him. It seemed incredible that he hadn’t seen me when he turned aside from the RE8. It looked so easy, I suspected a trap and I searched carefully around but there were no other machines in sight. I came down closer and closer and held my fire. My heart was pounding and I was trembling uncontrollably but my mind was calm and collected.

I closed to within ten yards of the Hun, edged out of his slipstream and drew nearer still until I saw that if I wasn’t careful, I would hit his rudder. His machine was green & grey and looked very spick and span. He had a dark brown flying helmet and a white goggle strap around the back of his head. I aimed carefully through the ALDIs between his shoulders just below where they showed above the fairing. It was impossible to miss. I gently pressed the trigger and with the very first shots his head jerked back. Immediately, the aircraft reared up vertically. He must have clutched the joystick fight back as he was hit. I followed upwards, still firing until in two or three seconds he stalled and fell over to the left and I had to slew sharply to one side to avoid being hit. He didn’t spin but dropped into a near-vertical engine-on dive.’

The Albatros Scout was confirmed as Lee’s first victory. He wrote happily in his diary ‘I got a Hun at last. And all on my own. And confirmed.’

The Sopwith Pup had entered operational service first with the RNAS in the summer of 1916, the first RNAS Pup squadron arriving in France in October. The following December, the first of the RFC’s all-Pup squadrons appeared on the Western Front. In its early months of fighting, the Pup proved to be a formidable opponent, more agile and with a faster rate of climb than contemporary German machines. Even Richthofen admired the Pup, believing it to be superior to the Albatros D-II despite the latter’s greater speed and firepower. The ‘Pup’ was never officially referred to as such as the high command regarded the name as un-dignified. When first introduced, the official name was the Sopwith ‘Scout’ but fliers soon commented that it was the ‘Pup’ of the larger but similar-looking Sopwith 1&1/2 Strutter and the moniker stuck. Afterwards Sopwith named their new machines after animals, hence the Camel, Dolphin and Snipe.

By the spring of 1917, the Sopwith Pup was increasingly outclassed by newer German machines such as the Albatross D-III, the Pfalz D-III and the Halberstadt D-II. By mid-summer, the Pup was virtually obsolete, its slower speed, fragile build and single-gun armament a distinct handicap. The RNAS began to exchange their Pups for the new Sopwith Camel in the spring of 1917 but the RFC squadrons operating the Pup had to keep using them until December.

Arthur Gould-Lee, born in Lincolnshire, England in 1894, initially began the Great War as an officer in the infantry from early 1915 until late 1916 when he managed to secure a transfer to the Royal Flying Corps. He was assigned to No 46 Squadron RFC, equipped with a mixture of Sopwith Pups and Royal Aircraft Factory BE2s and Lee arrived in France in March 1917. On the day he was sent to France, Lee was one of a group of six rookie pilots assigned to ferry factory-fresh BE2s over the Channel to the squadron’s aerodrome in France. Encountering murky weather en route, the pilots were separated and the others either crashed or force-landed elsewhere or vanished over the Channel, only Lee managed to reach his aerodrome intact. The new pilot expected to be warmly congratulated for managing to reach the airfield but instead Lee received a cool reception by No 46’s squadron commander who was annoyed that Lee had not crashed his BE2 as well, such was the hatred for the obsolete and vulnerable ‘Quirk’. By the spring of 1917, contempt for the BE2 had reached such levels that some pilots were deliberately crashing them or setting alight to them on the ground and then blaming it on enemy air attack so as to avoid having to fly them into action.

Lee managed to survive the infamous ‘Bloody April’ 1917 despite his lack of experience and he was alarmed at the high losses suffered by the RFC. He flew many patrols throughout the spring/summer of 1917 but did not manage to achieve his first confirmed success until the incident on 4th September described above. A week later on September 11th, Lee was co-credited with an enemy two-seater, the victory shared with three other pilots of No 46 Squadron. Three more victories followed later that month, the fifth occuring on September 30th, making Lee officially an ‘Ace’. Having been promoted to a full Lieutenant the previous July, Lee was made a Flight-Commander in November. On the final day of that month, Lee was credited with two victories downed in a single day, a DFW two-seater in the morning and an Albatros DV in the afternoon. With seven confirmed victories to his credit, Lee was exhausted and increasingly combat fatigued. At the end of 1917, Lee was assessed as no longer fit for operational flying and he was sent back to Britain, working the remainder of the Great War as an instructor.

After the war, Lee remained in the RAF, serving as a staff officer in Britain and the Middle-east in the 1920s. In 1928 he was given command of No 10 Squadron of Bomber Command RAF, a post he held for three years before again carrying out staff duties at RAF Command. When the Second World War began in 1939, Lee was working as an instructor in the Turkish air-force. In 1941, Lee served on the staff of RAF Middle-East Command and later became senior Air Staff Officer for No 12 Group in RAF Fighter Command. His final wartime post was chief of British Military Mission in Yugoslavia in 1945. Lee retired from the RAF in 1946.

Afterwards Lee embarked on a late career as a writer, producing over a dozen books, including a memoir of his experiences with No 46 Squadron in 1917 called No Parachute which was published in 1970 and now regarded as a classic. He died in 1975, age 80.

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First Gotha Night Raid on London – by Brian Knight

On 2030hrs on the evening of September 4th 1917, a force of eleven Gotha bombersof Kagohl-3 took off from their bases in Germany and headed individually across the Channel towards London. This was the first night-raid by fixed wing heavy bombers on the English Capital. The previous night, a smaller force of four Gothas had bombed Chatham, hitting the naval barracks and killing 138 young naval cadets and injuring another 88. Flushed with the success of that operation, the first nocturnal raid by Gothas, the Germans decided to hit London the next night.

Two of the Gothas suffered engine trouble en route and turned back which was nothing un-usual as bombing formations often suffered attrition from mechanical or navigational problems. Of the remaining nine bombers, the first reached the British coast at 2240hrs, the last arrived overland just after midnight. Before they reached London, the attackers encountered anti-aircraft fire near Rochester. One of the Gothas was fatally hit, the aircraft spiralling down to vanish in the waters of the Thames Estuary. Less successful was the Royal Flying Corps who flew nearly 20 sorties but none of the fighters managed to locate the bombers to make an interception.

The first Gotha arrived over London at 2330hrs, releasing its bombs over West Ham & Stratford. One bomb struck a dis-used factory which, ironically, had up until recently been used as an internment centre for German-born British citizens. Another Gotha arrived at 1145hrs, its ordnance falling on Woolwich and Greenwich Park. As searchlights pierced the clear night sky over London and AA guns opened fire, many Londoners rushed to seek shelter in the underground train platforms. A third Gotha appeared over Oxford Circus shortly before midnight, one of its bombs narrowly missing Charing Cross Hospital. One man named Stockman was sheltering in a hotel entrance on Charing Cross Rd with two other men when a terrified woman appeared, desperate for shelter. With no room for a fourth person, Stockman gave up his place for the woman. Seconds later, a bomb exploded nearby, the impact knocking Stockman to the ground. Dazed but unhurt, he looked up to see the woman and the other two men all lying dead nearby. Stockman entered the demolished front of the hotel, looking for any injured survivors he could assist, only to find two Canadian soldiers sitting upright still in their chairs stone dead. Another bomb hit Victoria Embarkment near Cleopatra’s Needle, shrapnel scything through a nearby tram, killing two of the passengers and slicing the legs off the driver who managed to apply the brakes and stop the tram before he died.

A fourth bomber released its bombs just prior to midnight, doing little damage. Half an hour later, a fifth Gotha appeared, dropping its load on Edmonton and Crouch End. One house was badly hit on Wellesley Rd, a soldier home on leave found dead in the passageway alongside the bodies of his young wife and 5-year-old child. The final bombs landed just before 1am, exploding in Norfolk Crescent. An 11-year-old girl walking to the end of her street to see the raid was bowled over by a bomb-blast. She got to her feet and walked home, thinking herself free of any injury until she realised upon examining herself that she now had a sizeable hole through one of her knees.

It is believed that only five Gothas actually reached London. It is difficult to be certain because some German Gotha crews would often choose to ‘tour’ their targets, dropping some of their bomb-load on one location and then drop the rest on at least one other target, sometimes several miles apart. Such tactics indicated the utter indifference some Gotha crews showed to the anti-aircraft fire by contrast to bomber crews of the Second World War who would hurriedly dump their bombs onto one target and then get out. Bombs were also dropped on several locations around Dover so it is likely that some of the bombers diverted to secondary targets. Total casualties on the ground amounted to 19 killed (16 of those in London) and 71 injured (including 56 Londoners). This toll was considerably less than other raids, thanks largely to the scattered bombing, the more prompt response of most Londoners to the air-raid warnings and the more effective operations of the fire-fighting crews. The single Gotha shot down near Rochester was the only loss suffered by the Germans.

pete hill (formerly Bunter)
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Voss’ 45th Victory – by Steve Anderson

At 1815hrs on 10th September 1917, German ace Werner Voss scored his 45th victory when he brought down a French SPAD south of Langemarck. He was flying his Fokker F.1, one of the first two prototypes of Fokker’s new triplane (the other had been given to Manfred von Richthofen). It was the third victory he had achieved that day, having shot down two Sopwith Camels only two hours earlier. 

After his minor wound suffered on 6th June, Voss had gone on leave, spending it with his friend Richthofen, returning to duty on June 28th and taking over as commander of Jasta 29. Less than a week later, he was re-assigned to take command of Jasta 14. On 5th July, he was summoned to Schwerin to test-fly the new Fokker F.1. Voss loved the superb manoeuvrability of the new fighter, its excellent rate of climb (1,000 metres in only three minutes after take-off) and the lightness on its controls, although he had reservations on its drawbacks such as its slow speed at high altitude and slowness in a dive. After completing his test-pilot duties, Voss returned to the Front on 30th July, this time as CO of Jasta 10. Upon his return, Voss was offered a new Pfalz D-III but he preferred the Albatros DV. On 10th August, he shot down a SPAD VII for his 35th victory (his first since 6th June). By 23rd August, his score had risen to 38. Shortly afterwards Voss received the new Fokker F.1 and had it painted sky-blue streaked with olive green with either a dark green or bright yellow engine cowling and wheel covers (historians cannot agree). On 3rd September, a Sopwith Camel became Voss’ 39th success and his first with the triplane.

Voss proved to be an able and inspiring commander although he strongly disliked the administrative responsibilities that came with his new role. In fact he delegated the latter duties to another pilot named Weigand who handled all the paperwork. When inspecting his aerodrome, Voss refused to use the staff car and instead rode around the airfield on his motorcycle. On 5th September, Voss brought down two Allied planes, a British Sopwith Pup and a French Caudron bomber, raising his score to 41. He destroyed an outdated FE2d the following day and the trio of successes on 10th September raised his tally to 45.

The very next day (Sept 11), Voss achieved two more victories, one in the morning, the other in an afternoon sortie, both of them Sopwith Camels. The latter was flown by six-victory ace Oscar McMaking of No 45 Squadron RFC. However only moments later, Voss was attacked in turn by Captain Norman MacMillan, another ace and one of McMaking’s squadron-mates. MacMillan fired at Voss’ triplane at very close range, several rounds missing the German ace’s head by inches. Voss may have perished that very moment if not for a British RE8 which blundered between him and MacMillan, throwing the latter off his aim and allowing Voss to dive away steeply and escape (MacMillan claimed an ‘out-of-control’ victory). Shaken by the incident, Voss went on leave the next day.

Voss visited Berlin, receiving a personal audience with Kaiser Whilhelm II who gave the ace an signed photograph of himself. Next was another visit to the Fokker factory at Schwerin where he spent two days accompanied by his girlfriend Ilse. He returned to duty on 22nd September.

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